What does a Maine Lobsterman, a Brazilian Native Fisherman and an Athabaskan Trapper Have in Common? Family, and Territory.

Jonathan Nathaniel Hayes
Comparative Ecological Analysis
December, Critical Review
Ecological, cultural, and economic approaches
to managing artisanal fisheries
By: Alpina Begossi

In this ambitious paper, Alpina Begoss sought to deal with various facets of both the cultural and institutional ecology of an artisanal fishing community of Caicaras in the village of Paraty, Rio de Janeiro State, on the southeastern Brazilian coast. In this critical review, I will be focusing on the cultural aspects of the paper and making some personal observations based on my time living in communities of lobstermen in coastal Maine.

Before the Portuguese colonization of this region of the southeast Brazilian coast, the native Indians lived the subsistence lifestyle of hunting/gathering in the forest and fishing along the shore. Soon after the Portuguese colonized the east coast of Brazil, the local culture shifted to that of African slave powered sugar-cane plantations. 
After slavery was banned in the 1880’s, the sugar-cane industry collapsed and was subsequently replaced by banana farming and cattle ranching.
In more recent years, decline in banana and beef prices has put a strain on the more profitable fisheries. Only 13% of the original forest remains. These patches of forests have been protected in such a way that all subsistence hunting or farming in the remaining forest has been banned. Since a laborer can make half again in fishing, what he would make in farming, fishing and tourism are now the primary economic drivers.
Fishermen taking their boat out at dawn, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The present state of the Caicaras fishing culture is the culmination of influences native, Portuguese, African and even Japanese. The social dynamic of the fisheries are based on kinship. If a fisherman is not going out alone, he typically goes with a brother, a father, or a son. Intermarriage between local families strengthens these local kinship bonds into an ecological metapopulation. Nepotism is the common approach to business. Territory rights (fishing spots) are retained by families and are protected in an unofficial cultural manner.
This seems to be true in other such fishing communities. I have seen this first hand during my 7 years living in the coastal town of Belfast, Maine, here in the northeastern United States. I desperately wanted to become a lobsterman. It soon became apparent to me, however, that one had to be born into it, and that fishing territories are inherited from one’s family. These territories, while not legal or official, were fiercely protected. If you set your lobster trap in a territory claimed by another family, you could expect to have the lines cut and you’d have no way to retrieve your valuable trap, or your catch. There were common reports in the community of gunshots fired out on the water when lobstermen refused to acknowledge these unofficial territories.
We also see such kinship nepotism in athabaskan peoples over their trap lines. Families have areas of forest that they have “run trap lines on” for over a century and, while not legally official, ignoring them in a community would not be tolerated.

It seems the author of this paper had two motives. First, she desired to draw some positive ecological inferences from the structure of this fisheries system. Secondarily, she offers vague suggestions on how to improve the ecology of such communities as Paraty.
The author defines “ecology” as an example of the relatedness of human populations to the environment. She then defines “fisheries” as a term which encompasses the fishers, the fish and their biotic community. She defines “fisheries biology” as encompassing the human, cultural, and economic aspects of fishing. In fisheries biology, then, the desire is to find a balance between small scale fishing communities and the actions needed to achieve conservation goals.

It seems communities such as this one in Rio De Janeiro have found a favorable balance between a household subsistence fishing effort and a full scale commercial fishery. This Goldie Locks culture between the two is referred to by the author as “artisanal fisheries.” Artisanal is defined in the dictionary as “(a product, especially food or drink) made in a traditional or non-mechanized way.” As applied to our subject, artisanal fishing is the harvesting of fish in a traditional or non mechanized way. These fishers are not harvesting on a grand scale, but they are harvesting more than their families can consume so that they can sell the surplus at market to purchase other needed items that must be purchased.

One of the great benefits to such a study is the ability to research the subject in an “emic” (insider)way as well as the “etic” (outsider) investigations that so often characterize the sciences. In the emic form, we can ask the study subject (the fisher) where and when he fishes for certain species and layer that upon our etic knowledge of the species through scientific observation and study. The emic leads us to what is referred to as the L.E.K. or the “local ecological knowledge.” Only the most presumptuous and naive researcher would neglect to factor L.E.K. of the indigenous peoples of their area of study into their overall picture of the subject.

Begoss concludes the paper by offering what, to this reader, seems to be very vague suggestions for improvement of the artisanal fisheries of Rio De Janeiro and beyond. She begins by suggesting an integration of the regional local economy with the community culture. There is also a suggestion that negotiations for fisheries rules and corporate regulations be decentralized. These suggestions are followed by four numbered points. Namely that:
1. local culture and local economy should be considered.
2. cooperation between fishers and researchers should be encouraged.
3. Fishing corporations should include local government and local fishers in its management.
economic stimulus should be offered to incentivize local fishing communities toward conservation efforts. Of the suggestions given, this fourth point seems to be the most actionable. 

Despite the lack of clear application from the conclusion, or a clear picture of what the paper set out to achieve, I feel the paper is useful and significant at this point in our studies on comparative ecology. It well represents the complex and intricate way in which many human and environmental variables can and should be incorporated into a well rounded ecological study.

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